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ukulele
(yoo-kuh-LAY-lee)

A small, four-stringed musical instrument usually associated with Hawaiian music.

There's an bug hopping around inside the name of this instrument: Ukulele derives from the Hawaiian words uku, which means "flea" and lele, which means "jumping." So what's the connection between the instrument and the insect?

Portuguese laborers first brought this instrument to the Hawaiian islands. It reportedly was popularized in the late 19th century by a British army officer named Edward Purvis, who played it at the court of King Kalakaua. Purvis was a bit of a grig: Strikingly small in stature, he played his instrument with extremely lively, nimble movements -- so much so that the Hawaiians began calling him a ukulele, or "leaping flea." The name was eventually transferred to the instrument itself.

"The ukulele (pronounced oo-koo-LAY-lay in its native Hawaii) is enjoying one of its periodic surges in popularity, said Nuni Walsh, a director of the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum (a largely virtual institution, consisting of a group of devotees in several states and their ukes)." -- Andy Newman, reporting in The New York Times from one of those gee-I'm-sorry-I-missed-that-events: "Ukulele Expo 2000," held in New Jersey.

 


ultra-crepidarian

(ull-truh-krep-ih-DAIR-ee-uhn)

Giving opinions or criticizing beyond one's own range of expertise.

This marvelous, chastening word alludes to a story about Alexander the Great's favorite artist, Apelles. It seems that when a cobbler saw Apelles' drawing of a sandal, he criticized the way Apelles had drawn the latch, and the artist promptly corrected his error.

Emboldened, the cobbler went on to disparage the way Apelles had drawn the subject's legs. At that point, as one ancient writer put it, Apelles snapped "Ne supra crepidam judicaret," or "Let him not criticize above the sole." (Crepida, in Latin, is "sole" or "sandal.") In other words, the cobbler was qualified to judge footwear, but not more.

Centuries later, speakers of English began using ultra-crepidarian (Latin for "beyond the sole") to describe those who give opinions on matters they know little about, and ultracrepidarianism to denote that practice.

This word's first recorded use was in an 1819 letter by William Hazlitt, who opined:

"You have been well-called an ultra-crepidarian critic."

 

 

 

unctuous

(UNGK-choo-uss)

1. Characterized by exaggerated or insincere earnestness, especially in an overly affected manner; cloying.

2. Oily, greasy, or fatty.

The Latin word unctum, meaning "ointment," gave us this oily word. (The same root is found extreme unction, the former name for the Roman Catholic rite that in 1972 was changed to "the Anointing of the Sick." Similarly, an unguentis a "salve".)

"'Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?' was a PR disaster for Fox, ending in an annulment for the couple, ignominy for unctuous groom Rick Rockwell and the inevitable Playboy spread for loathsome bride Darva Conger." -- Thomas Nord, in Louisville's Courier-Journal

 

 


uvula

(YOO-vyuh-luh)

The soft palate at the back of the throat.

Ever wonder what that little droplet of flesh is called? Well, the Romans thought it looked like a "little grape," and named it with a diminutive form of their word for that fruit, uva.

"'Oh and by the way,' she said, trying to sound casual, 'Have I ever shown you my uvula?'"

 

 

uxorious

(uk-SORR-ee-uss)

Excessively devoted to or submissive to one's wife.

This word comes from the Latin word uxor, meaning "wife."

"All I know is that ever since she started running for the Senate, he's seemed quite uxorious."

(c) 1999-2005 Martha Barnette

 

 
                 
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